Covid lockdown: Scotland cannot maintain tougher restrictions on foreign travel than rest of UK – Scotsman comment

While saying there would be “some opening up” of foreign travel on May 17, Boris Johnson stressed “we have got to be cautious” to minimise the risk of a resurgence of the virus. And with good reason.

In January, Professor Hugh Pennington wrote in the Scotsman that many strains of the virus had died out in Scotland during the first lockdown. “Second-wave viruses were by and large not first-wave survivors but new imports, many from countries outside the UK. A price has been paid for summer holidays abroad,” he said.

For much of this crisis, Nicola Sturgeon has adopted a more cautious approach than Boris Johnson, with lockdown restrictions that were tougher or lasted longer than those in the rest of the UK.

Under the UK government’s road map out of lockdown, May 17 is the earliest date that international travel could be permitted for non-essential purposes. While no firm commitments on this have been made by the Scottish government, the First Minister has said non-essential international travel from Scotland was unlikely to resume from that date.

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However, Johnson’s commitment to caution on this issue should hopefully enable a meeting of minds. For there are good reasons to treat overseas travel on a “four nations” basis, not least the ease with which any tougher restrictions in Scotland could be circumvented, as Alan Glen, of the Scottish Passenger Agents Association, explained.

“We have to have a four nations approach to this,” he told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland. “There's no way it's going to work... Scotland operating a different system to England when you can freely travel across the Border and fly out of an English airport – and that's exactly what will happen.”

If people fly from Liverpool and Manchester, instead of Glasgow and Edinburgh, all that will do is increase the amount of mixing the restrictions are designed to reduce.

Passengers make their way through the main terminal at Edinburgh Airport in July last year (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

The main other effect would be to harm Scotland’s airports and travel industry, as hard hit as any sectors by the pandemic.

While the virus does remain a threat, the vaccination of those most at risk – more than 1.3 million people in Scotland have now received their second dose – means that the focus should now increasingly be on rescuing the economy and certainly not being different simply for the sake of it.

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